Panama City, Panamá: Just Because It’s Awesome

Diana film camera portrait of a construction worker Panama City, Panamá
Construction worker in redeveloping Casco Viejo. Panama City, Panamá. All rights reserved.

Panama City, Panamá is a city in transition. One of the brighter emerging economies in Latin America, it’s home to a stable democracy. Markets and services are blossoming with cash flow, in part from their ownership of the Panama Canal.

This does not make it perfect, and there is still much work to do. But Panama has come a very long way, in a relatively short amount of time. For that, the country deserves respect.

Some might look at the new highrise apartments, condos, and office buildings in the eastern part of the city and think it has already emerged. But as is common in many cities, development also comes at the expense of redevelopment. You might call it gentrification.

For all of the wired modernism in neighborhoods like Punta Pacifica, there is old Panamá on the west side of the city. Here it is not highrise and exclusive living, or wealthy, save for parts of Casco Antiguo. But it is colorful, vibrant, and public.

Casco Antiguo (aka Casco Viejo), is the old historic district, and redevelopment is in-process. This means one building could house or staff well-to-do and cater to tourism or nightlife, while just next door could be a family living in poverty. It does not take a doctorate to know which has a future in this neighborhood.

Regardless of how we feel about it, this is the direction many cosmopolitan cities are now taking. And who are we to tell any country or foreign city how to handle something like this?

Contextual understanding is important, and I get where concerned locals are coming from. But if standards-of-living can and do improve broadly, then it’s shallow to expect a neighborhood to stay poor, just so gringos like me can say it’s authentic. That discussion, in more profound aspects, is up to Panamá.

Nonetheless, the people of Panama City regardless their circumstances, are truly lovely people. Smiles and laughter are common. Conversations are lively, or gentle. Spirits are good. Food is delicious. Even street hustlers and annoying taxi drivers have their charms. Operation Just Cause is in the past, and I experienced no anti-Americanism. I had a great time.

By no means does any of this rationalize squalid conditions some Panamanians still live in, such as in El Chorillo or Santa Ana. But there is a pride and optimism in Panamá, and that cannot be denied.

Photography notes:

It is in the neighborhoods of Casco Antiguo and Santa Ana that I shot most of my Panama City photos during my February visit. But there are snap shots from around downtown areas Marbella and El Cangrejo, too. I snuck in a few pictures from Carnaval, but during the festivities I just put the camera away and partied. Plenty of local photographers were on the scene, anyway. 

The photo you see above is a portrait, not a candid or staged. I walked up and motioned with my camera, and he nodded. I took the shot, nodded back and was on my way. No words spoken. But it was cool as it gets, and it’s my favorite shot from Panamá. And yes, it’s film. 


Ireland: What the travel guides don’t publish

alternative travel photography Dublin Ireland
Dublin might be the make out capital of the world. PDA of sorts. North Docklands. Dublin, Ireland. ~ Photo by Paul Ottaviano, Oct. 2016.

Forget leprechaun and four-leaf clover kitsch. Nobody wears green in Dublin anyway, unless it’s a national rugby or soccer team match-day.

Put away the Instagram pics of Guinness and Temple Bar. No matter how appealing both are, there are, believe it or not, other Irish beers and parts-of-town.

You won’t see any cliché photographs of shepherds or rolling green landscapes with castles from me, either. And FFS, I didn’t kiss the Blarney Stone. But more on kissing later.

So, let’s get to the point. Here is my list of rad things every indie-photographer traveler must experience while in beautiful Ireland, but Frommers and Lonely Planet probably won’t publish.

5. Watch a Garda Arrest in North Dublin at 1:00 AM

During my last night in Dublin, I lucked out. I witnessed an arrest on Talbot Street in the early morning, while walking around slightly inebriated with my Holga camera.

A homeless man was seen by three Garda in the act of a crime – I don’t know what specifically – and immediately two Garda, who were on foot, ran to him and took him down, but not over-aggressive. The third extended his baton and watched their backs.

They called for back-up immediately and a patrol car took the man away. There was no pepper spray, taser, or guns drawn. Nobody was shot. Nobody was hurt. No bystanders were caught-up in a controversy. There will not be a viral video.

The man’s female companion was distraught. But instead of arresting her or taking a hard-line, one of the Garda simply sat down with her and while calming her down, asked, “Okay dear, what is your name? How do you know this man?”

For all the problems in U.S. policing now, it was refreshing to see a civilized application of the law. I don’t know if Garda is always like this, but my faith in policing was somewhat renewed.

4. Ride Bus Eireaan – not a tourist bus – to Cork 

Here’s where it gets authentic. If you’re fortunate enough, you’ll sit next to three Irish MMA-bros and they’ll never stop talking. Even better, you won’t be able to understand a word they say.

At most you’ll be able to make something out of, “She haut ya, but pot belli too much drink ya… ha ha ha.”, while they oogle risqué Facebook posts on their iPad. Now imagine this for hours. It’s the best, no kidding. No tour will give you this.

3. While in Cork, be called a “weasel” by Uncle Seamus

There is The English Market in Cork, where tourists are funneled. But cross the river to the other side of town, and it’s gritty.

Oh, and across-the-river the street art is oh so good! Really, screw museums. Get with the times and join the revolution by just walking off-the-path streets.

Now if you’re so graced by the travel Gods while trekking The Other Cork, you’ll cross-paths with an old-timer stumbling out of a pub at 3:00 PM, who is looking for a good verbal punching bag.

He will look and sound something like a geriatric Popeye, complete with knit sweater and white beard. He won’t waste time, either.

“Look at the weasel!”, he might say to a local young man and father out walking with his family.

“Fuck you!”, will be the response.

Seamus will pause, and then recover by saying, “No, not you. I meant him. The Yanc (yank)!” In case you’re wondering, that will be you.

“Look at the Yanc weasel!”

Now if he persists, you’re in your moral right to properly give him the finger. This ought to end the conversation. If not, proceed at your pace back to the touristy English Market, where Uncle Seamus will get a stark reminder that it’s not 1930 anymore and he’ll turn around.

I love Uncle Seamus, because an encounter like this happens once every trip I take. I have no idea where it will come from, or who it will be. And while I’m sometimes “FU” immediately, I always remember it fondly. As long as nobody gets hurt, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s real. That said, make sure you’re in a civilized country or city before responding with, “FU”.

2. Go to a Bohemian FC Football Match at Dalymount Park in North Dublin

That’s soccer, yo. It’s a supporter owned team playing in the Irish first division Airtricity League of Ireland.

Dalymount Park is a small old timey delight right in the middle of a working class neighborhood. It’s dubbed the Home of Irish Football. It’s football’s past, nearing its twilight in the present.

You’ll be patted down as you enter the home side gate, because there was a fight with rival supporters of Shamrock Rovers during a June match. Don’t worry, you’ll survive.

You’ll also see some bad ass street art on your way into the ground.

Turnstiles are narrow. Hallways are also narrow, packed, and like a maze to the seats. Supporters will be in their bar, the GM will be milling around the hallway, and somehow you’ll zig zag your way to the stands. The excitement of a big match will be palpable, despite stadium capacity being small.

The pitch will be uneven and lovingly imperfect, much like Dublin and the country itself. Quality of play will be spirited and pacey, albeit not Barcelona. But who cares? It’s a local club, owned by local people, and with a roster of mostly Irish lads from Dublin. It’s real football.

Better yet, you can support the team, too.

1. Make Out with a Stranger on Night One, and Make a New Friend

Okay, so the kissing. Yes, I really think Dublin might be the make-out capital of the world. I can’t say this for certain, because I haven’t surveyed the international kissing scene. However, if you look around, especially at night, there will be a fair amount of smooching.

I don’t mean cheesy romantic while standing on the bridge at sunset stuff, either. I mean, 10:00 PM at a pub or 2:00 AM at an after-hours joint, and people making-out like they’re just a few steps from the twirl. They could be lovers, or perhaps more likely, they just met. They could be locals, ex-pats, or very likely jet lagged travelers on a pub crawl.

Do they actually do the dirty? Maybe, maybe not. In any event, it’s fun and seen as relatively innocent. And it’s seemingly everywhere. By the way, I’ve seen a fair amount in my day so naiveté long ago flew my nest. So, Make Out Capital? Yes, I really think so.

Extra Credit

  • Run off to Derry with a woman you just met. I didn’t do this, but Sam the Man from Ohio did. I hear it went well for him.
  • Go to a local pub that doesn’t serve Guinness, and have a conversation with an alleged ex-IRA man – no, wait – I mean, sit and listen while he shouts in your ear about his interesting and perhaps dubious history. It’s an experience.
  • Eat the Traditional Irish Breakfast in sandwich form at O’Donovans. It’s high calorie, high fat and delicious. No worries, just walk it off. Dublin is good for that.
  • Silent Disco. Seriously. No, really. It’s actually very fun.
  • Answer questions about your politics honestly. You will be asked, many times. Yes, their attention is on the States. Based on what I heard, they’re not Trump fans.

Ireland is great. Go there.


Take the Highway West


Outside of Portland is a big state. A native might say it’s “the real Oregon”, which is all things rural or small town and in many places beautiful. But just because it’s country, does not mean it always lacks open-minded thinking or urban influence. Appearances can sometimes be deceiving.

Driving west on Sunset Highway 26 is always a pleasure, sans traffic. 26 links Portland to the Oregon coast. It’s a gorgeous drive. Along the way there are plenty of nice surprises, for the uninitiated, or delights for those familiar. One is the Banks-Vernonia trail, converted from an old railroad line that cuts through Stub Stewart State Park. I’ve been on a lot of bike rides there, and have parked many times at the trailhead in Buxton.

Each time I’ve driven through this tiny town, I’ve never stopped. There really isn’t a place to stop. But the other day I decided to pause here, look around, and find a few pictures in it. There is nothing posh or immediately dazzling in this sort of photography subject. But it’s part of our world, and should be photographed all the same.